While deciding on the best song of 1979 in our 50 Years of Music podcast, we couldn’t help but spend a few moments mocking the syrupy sweetness of piña coladas, pointing out the flaws of consummating a relationship in the dunes on the Cape (or any beach setting), and marveling at the lack of moral fiber in the protagonist and his “lady” in Rupert Holmes’s “Escape (The Piña Colada Song).” The woman tried to cheat on her partner by taking out a want ad, and he just happened to be scrolling through the classifieds for the exact same reason. These are weak, vapid people. It’s no wonder they were able to laugh it off with a quick, “Ah, it’s you!” She may as well have said, “Ah, I forgot how shitty we are!”
After all, NO ONE likes piña coladas.
But as we were recording, I remembered that while these characters may be the worst people in 1970s music, the worst person in the history of all recorded music arrives a year later, from a 1980 Top Ten hit. Sure, kids today can throw “Blurred Lines” at me, and I must admit that I’m not totally familiar with R. Kelly’s catalog, but I’ll always have a horrified soft spot for the protagonist in “Into the Night” by Benny Mardones.
“Who?” you might ask. “Which song?”
Are you sitting down?
Benny Mardones had a modest career by many standards, but he had that one hit that would sustain him, bring him into rarified air. His single “Into the Night” spent 20 weeks on the charts and peaked at #11 in 1980, and then—oddly enough—the song was revived by an Arizona DJ in a “Where Are They Now?” segment in 1989. The DJ kept playing it and again the song caught on nationally, causing Mardones to reissue it so that the song spent another 17 weeks on the charts.
Now, all that is mildly interesting, but it’s absolutely mind-blowing when you consider the first line of the song:
“‘She’s just 16-years old, leave her alone,’ they say.”
That’s right. “Into the Night” is a love song about an older man pursuing a sophomore in high school and resolving to take her away—”into the night”—and show her “a love like you’ve never seen.” They are “separated by fools,” who adhere too closely, apparently, to law, custom, and good taste. The pained vocals of the 34-year old Mardones make the song that much more creepy, for who knows what kind of decision this guy is going to make in his desperation.
What the heck was 1980 thinking? I know, I know, Steely Dan was hooking up with a girl who hadn’t even heard of Aretha Franklin, but still, she was at least 19. Oh, and by the way, 1989 is not off the hook either. The song made it all the way to #20 in its SECOND life! This song should never have charted once, but twice?!
Why the heck is the protagonist pining for a 16-year old?! And why was America buying the record and playing it on the radio?!!
Sometimes I like to imagine the bass player in the studio back during the recording. He’s got the notes and he’s practicing and he’s talking with the drummer and here comes Benny Mardones.
Time to record.
“‘She’s just 16 years old, leave her alone,’ they say.”
The bassist turns to the drummer, totally confused, “Did he just say…?”
I mean, doesn’t the bass player walk? Didn’t Benny’s agent go to him and say, “You know, in that third track, let’s go back in and change her age to, I don’t know… 24? Doesn’t that sound better? 24 or, like, 25?”
Maybe I’m a little too naïve. For a long time I actually didn’t know what The Beatles meant—they assumed too much: “Well, she’s just 17, you know what I mean.” Uh, what? She’s inviting you to prom?
I don’t have a point for this little essay, mind you, I’m just jotting down my thoughts as I work toward your homework assignment. That’s right, I’m assigning homework—it’s what I do. Because—are you really sitting down?
Because Benny Mardones made a music video. Not only that, but Benny Mardones made a music video in the era of very literal music video making, and I want you to watch it.
I figure if I have to watch it—and my co-hosts Jeff and Ben have to watch it—y’all should watch it as well. And as you watch it, try your best to pick out the part where you’re the most horrified. If you watch the whole thing, you’re going to have a really hard time picking the worst moment. And you’ll feel queasy and dirty the whole time, so just go ahead make yourself that piña colada and get it over with.
Make sure to check out the 50 Years of Podcast w/ 50 Year Old White Dudes each and every week here.